There were some occasional flashes of brilliance in this uneven episode starring Scarlett Johansson and Lorde. Here's everything happened.
The Cold Open
In the year 2018, aliens from Zorblatt 9 invade earth and President Donald Trump is called upon to provide an inspirational speech to U.S. troops. Of course it's a mess of a speech that reveals his racism and shady business dealings. A left field, vaguely imaginative idea whose momentum stemmed from Alec Baldwin's Trump more than anything else.
Five-time host ScarJo played a Kenan Thompson-centric highlight reel of her SNL past before Kate McKinnon arrived on stage to reminisce in person and plug their new film, Rough Night. And then Thompson showed up as well and the trio sang a "five-time hosting" song to the tune of that Subway "$5 foot-long" jingle from a couple of years ago. Not an auspicious start to this episode.
Good Day Denver
Mikey Day plays Danny Bangs, an animal photographer who is accidentally introduced as an "animal pornographer" during an interview at the Denver Zoo by Johansson's field reporter, Donna. Despite the in-studio anchorpeople's repeated interruptions to clarify the mistake, the recurring graphic captions for the segment are increasingly and amusingly risqué, including a plug for his site, "dannybangsanimals.com."
A promo for a reality show about affluent lesbians set near the same location as the hot, young, gay stud Logo TV show, Fire Island, this short piece didn't really take off. It was just actual shots of the sex-fuelled Fire Island juxtaposed with how comparably boring a show like Cherry Grove would be. But the conceptual ad just wasn't all that interesting or funny either.
A science experiment reveals the thoughts of a dog named Max, who beyond "liking park" reveals that he's actually a dyed-in-the-wool Donald Trump supporter. Voiced by Beck Bennett, Max is an erudite but bigoted political expert, which was funny, particularly since the dog actor kicked off its mindreading helmet, forcing Johansson to become an on-the-spot prop mistress, which was actually pretty impressive.
The Olive Garden TV ad
Beck Bennett plays a TV commercial director who guides four actors into faking how much they love Olive Garden. Some of his directions are at least a little odd but they're particularly offensive to the two black actors, played by Leslie Jones and Kenan Thompson. He adopts a stereotypical Southern black accent on some occasions but also gets everyone to do ridiculous things like feign orgasms over the food or dunk their face in a bowl of tomato sauce-laden pasta. A bit long and dinner theatre-y, this was still funny.
A perfume ad campaign for a line by Ivanka Trump, this was a sharp jab at her role in her father's political affairs. It smartly attacked her lack of bona fides as a feminist for not bailing on her dad, particularly after the whole Access Hollywood tape fiasco. And Johansson played her as a cold opportunist perfectly.
The most striking thing about Lorde's initial performance was the camera work. She was tracked with a single camera, which moved from side to side, as she sang, and she stared it down the whole time during the angst-y, yet slight goth-pop song "Green Light." She spent its last 90 seconds basically dancing frenetically with herself. In a move to show off some dynamic range, her second confessional song, "Liability," was also artfully shot, with only piano accompaniment from Jack Antanoff to back a raw, emotional vocal that was a little bit Patti Smith and a little bit Paul Westerberg. She drove the wistful thing home by wearing a sadly wrinkled wedding dress. (Pre-order her new album via Umusic here.)
Michael Che and Colin Jost went after the GOP's American Health Care Act, suggesting it was so bad, even the shameless president distanced himself from it by not once referring to it as "Trumpcare." Jost joked that the revised travel ban was just a collection of brown fabric swatches, which soon led to a desk piece with Kate McKinnon's Jeff Sessions and Alex Moffat's very strong Al Franken (a subtle, strong impression) having an awkward encounter. Che made an easy masturbation joke about A Day Without a Woman and Jost had a funny line about Waffle House parking lot knife fights. After announcing that he was sober for the first time in years, Pete Davidson did a mostly straight up political piece critical of the GOP that only really descended into his penchant for the wildly profane via boner ad-libs.
True Tales From the Sea
Emerging star Mikey Day is Harrison Beckett, a U.S. air force pilot abandoned on an island during WWII. He meets a sea God who promises him one of his mermaid daughters. Two are conventionally attractive, while two others, played by Kate McKinnon and Scarlett Johansson, are hideous. A pretty rote premise that was only notable because Johansson was cast as ugly and could barely keep it together with McKinnon's ridiculousness in front of her.
Shanice Goodwin: Ninja
A physical comedy spoof that played a bit on Leslie Jones' late blooming ascent in comedy, she played a woman in her 40s who recently took up Ninjutsu and is applying her new skillset to vigilante justice. Somewhat mis-shot with blocking miscues, this was a both intentionally and unintentionally klutz-y and ultimately unmemorable.
A Day Without A Woman Sketch
One of the most ingenious bits of the night was a Mooney-Beckett invention, in which they play pseudo-sensitive men lamenting the plight of women, while surrounded by all of the female cast members and guests, but not letting them speak for themselves. Something of a followup to the previous week's "Woman in a Bar," this was a funny, incisively awkward, smartly meta comment on idiot men who think they can emancipate women by working on their behalf. Even Lorde got in on this one.
Larchmont Funeral Home
An unusually strong but reliably absurd show closer, a funeral for a staid-looking middle-aged man is upended by two of his supposed friends who sing songs the deceased allegedly wrote. Vanessa Bayer plays his surprised widow who is comforted by an Aidy Bryant character who marvels at the deep club jams about butts that Kenan Thompson and Scarlett Johansson deliver with skanky enthusiasm. This was funny.